Saudi Arabia and Mexico clash in a high-stakes World Cup fixture in Lusail on Wednesday night.
Despite following their historic upset of Argentina with a disappointing defeat by Poland in Group C, the Saudis still have their fate in their own hands as they look to reach the knockout stages for only the second time ever.
If Herve Renard’s side beat Mexico, then they will be through to the round of 16 for the first time since USA 94, when they advanced from a group containing the Netherlands and Belgium before losing to Sweden.
However, a draw here will only be enough if Lionel Messi and Argentina slip-up for the second time against Poland at Stadium 974 in Doha. The Saudis will be out if both matches are drawn, while it will come down to goal difference if Saudi Arabia draw and Poland are beaten by Argentina. Saudi Arabia cannot progress if they lose again.
For Mexico, victory is essential to have any chance of making the last-16, coupled with other results going their way. After opening with a goalless draw against the Poles, they were beaten 2-0 by Argentina thanks to moments of magic from Messi and Enzo Fernandez that lit up an otherwise drab affair on Saturday night.
Date, kick-off time and venue
|Photo: Getty Images
Saudi Arabia vs Mexico is scheduled for a 7pm GMT kick-off on Wednesday, November 30, 2022.
The match will take place at Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar.
From the highs of defeating tournament favourites Argentina to the lows of a 2-0 loss to Poland, Herve Renard’s Saudi Arabia were brought crashing back down to earth at the weekend and missed the opportunity to seal a historic knockout place.
An inspired performance from Wojciech Szczesny helped get Poland over the line, with the Juventus man saving from Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty either side of goals from Piotr Zielinski and Robert Lewandowski, the latter’s first at the World Cup at the age of 34.
Having now been bumped down to third in the Group C standings, Saudi Arabia’s destiny is still in their own hands, as three points against the Mexicans would safely see them through to the knockout stages for only the second time, having got as far as the last 16 in 1994.
A draw may even be enough if Poland can do them a favour by beating Argentina by at least three goals, but a tally of just four wins from their last 19 matches in all competitions hardly inspires confidence, nor does a 6% clean sheet ratio at the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Mexico learned the hard way about giving Lionel Messi too much time and space on the edge of the box over the weekend, as the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner set Argentina on their way to a pivotal 2-0 win to deepen their fellow Americans’ elimination concerns.
|Photo: Getty Images
Messi found the bottom corner with 64 minutes on the clock before Benfica starlet Enzo Fernandez wrapped up the three points in some fashion with a delightful curling effort, leaving Mexico at real risk of breaking their magnificent streak of top-two finishes.
El Tri have progressed to the knockout stages of every World Cup since 1994 and have not gone out in the group stage since 1978, but Gerardo Martino’s side simply have to win and hope that the scoreline and/or goals go in their favour in Poland’s clash with Argentina.
Given their far inferior goal difference, Mexico would need to beat Saudi Arabia by a four-goal margin to qualify if Poland and Argentina play out a draw, and they will need a five-goal swing in their favour if Argentina beat their European counterparts.
Alternatively, Mexico will be through if they win and if Poland get the better of Argentina, but they have done themselves no favours by failing to score in the 2022 edition so far – out of all the sides to have played two games so far, only Tunisia have also posted zero goals.
Mexico can take some solace in the fact that they boast a strong record of four wins and a draw from their five meetings with Saudi Arabia, but the most recent of those came all the way back in 1999, and Renard’s side should fear no foe in their bid for a much-coveted top-two finish.
Saudi Arabia vs Mexico team news
Saudi Arabia paid heartfelt tribute to Yasir Al-Shahrani before their meeting with Poland after the Al-Hilal defender underwent successful surgery back in Riyadh after sustaining a fractured jaw, broken facial bones and internal bleeding after that sickening accidental collision with goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais in the win over Argentina.
He is obviously out for the tournament, while captain Salman Al-Faraj has also left the team camp after a leg injury suffered in the same game saw his participation in Qatar similarly ended.
Meanwhile, midfielder Abdulelah Al-Malki – whose error led to Lewandowski’s first World Cup goal for Poland – is suspended after picking up his second yellow card of the tournament.
For Mexico, their own skipper in Real Betis veteran Andres Guardado is also set to miss out with a pulled muscle suffered in the first half against Argentina.
Saudi Arabia possible starting lineup:
Alowais; Abdulhamid, Al-Amri, Tambakti, Al-Burayk; Kanno; Al-Buraikan, Al-Abed, Al-Najei, Al-Dawsari; Al-Shehri
Mexico possible starting lineup:
Ochoa; Sanchez, Moreno, Montes, Gallardo; Herrera, Alvarez, Chavez; Lozano, Jimenez, Vega
Saudi Arabia vs Mexico prediction
|Photo: Getty Images
Saudi Arabia getting to this final game with their last-16 fate still in their own hands is a fantastic achievement in its own right, whatever transpires in Lusail on Wednesday evening.
Their stunning upset of Messi and much-fancied Argentina – which led to the creation of a new national holiday and suggestions of a Rolls Royce for each player – will go down in World Cup folklore.
But Renard’s side will have belief that they are far from done yet, despite being frustrated by Poland, with Salem Al Dawsari seeing a penalty saved and others including Mohammed Al Burayk, Saud Abdulhamid and Al Brikan all missing great opportunities in another competitive display.
Saudi Arabia will feel they have little to fear from Mexico, who had veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to thank for preserving a point against Poland by keeping out Lewandowski’s penalty.
Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s men did at least succeed in frustrating Argentina for long spells, but never looked capable of springing an upset of their own at the weekend.
They will be itching to ensure that their campaign does not end with a whimper, so it’s easy to foresee a draw that would eliminate Mexico and need Saudi Arabia needing a favour from Poland.
Head to head (h2h) history and results
Mexico have won four of the five previous meetings between these two sides, scoring 14 goals and conceding just twice.
All of those matches came back in the 1990s, with no fixture yet this century. Saudi Arabia were thumped 5-1 in the last contest at the 1999 Confederations Cup, with hosts Mexico going on to lift the trophy.
Saudi Arabia wins: 0
Mexico wins: 4